Single, Childless Man: Not Having Children is Selfish

A man who has never been married, had sex or (obviously) had children is lecturing those of us who have chosen not to have children, saying that we are being “selfish” because of some Deepok Chopra-level word salad about “energy” and childbirth. That man, of course, is the pope:

“A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope said.

“The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”…

The remarks echoed earlier comments by the pope on the topic of childlessness. Last year, he warned against the lure of a “culture of wellbeing” that can come when a couple does not have children and has the money and freedom to take nice holidays and buy a second home in the countryside.

“It might be better, more comfortable, to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog,” he said. “Is this true or is this not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”

See, here’s the difference between me and the pope. Neither of is married or likely ever will be and neither of us has children or ever will, but I’m not a giant hypocrite who goes around lecturing other people about what choices they should make in their own lives. I think if people want to have children, they should have them. And if they don’t want to have children, they shouldn’t have them. Either way, it is absolutely none of my business — and sure as hell isn’t any of the pope’s business.

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  • sharonb

    The Catholic Church as a fertility cult. Discuss.

  • Scott Hanley

    C’mon, Ed, the shepherd’s not supposed to fuck the sheep. Although it does happen sometimes.

  • opposablethumbs

    Let me see … “someone to look after me when I’m old” – sounds like a pretty bloody selfish reason to me, to expose another human being to all the ills that flesh is heir to, and Pope Paco doesn’t seem to have come up with anything else.

    There is absolutely no measure by which it is intrinsically more selfish not to have kids than it is to have them, and considering where the human race is at in terms of the consumption of resources it is generally more selfless not to have any (disclaimer: I have two).

    The RCC: desperate as ever for more canon-fodder (pun intended, sorry).

  • otrame

    @1

    I like the cut of your jib, Sharonb.

    But I have to disagree. It’s about power, power in all it’s manifestations.

    I had two kids and I have five grandkids ( some are from the blending of families) and my immediate reaction to the quote above is to start humming Tim Minchin’s Pope Song.

  • U Frood

    Is this in response to the criticism he got for suggesting that maybe people shouldn’t have more children than they can afford to support?

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    A man who has never been married, had sex or (obviously) had children

    Allegedly… Lots of popes (Alexander VI, I’m looking at you…) fathered children, etc.

    People who live in gilded palaces should not throw thrones, when it comes to selfishness.

  • llewelly

    But, it’s very interesting to hear the pope say these things, because, as is reasonably well known, family planning, including the choice to have no children, plays a very strong role in reducing inequality. His opposition to family planning shows his nice words about inequality are hollow.

    Furthermore, at least for those of us in relatively wealthy nations, it’s environmentally important for us to have fewer children. And so his anti-family planning stances are in conflict with his nice words about the environment.

  • U Frood

    They’re not totally against family planning. As long as you use a method that’s extremely prone failure due to human error and has the benefit of reducing the amount of just for fun sex.

  • wreck

    Doesn’t he have some issues in his own house regarding children to clean up before he comments on the goings on in other peoples’ houses?

  • John Pieret

    Marcus:

    People who live in gilded palaces should not throw thrones

    Dial up Modus, he’s got a shiny internet waiting for you.

  • Anne Fenwick

    @4

    It’s about power, power in all it’s manifestations.

    I agree with that. Not just power in the ‘I love bossing people around’ kind of way. The emotional, economic and political blackmail that can be exerted on people who have children to protect and nurture is phenomenal. In addition, the amount of sheer labor they have to put in to raising them keeps politically passive to quite a large extent.

  • Deacon Duncan

    I kind of agree with the Pope: people who choose not to have children are selfish. Just like people who do choose to have children, and people who adopt children, and people who work in orphan homes caring for children, and in fact just about everybody. You do good things because you want to obtain blessings for yourself, you avoid bad things because you want to avoid negative consequences for yourself. Selfishness is the heart of all human morality. That’s why no Christian ever offers to perform the one truly selfless, loving act, which would be to volunteer to take some sinner’s place in hell for all eternity. There’s no point in being selfless and loving if you never get any selfish benefit from it.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Of all the reasons to have children, “someone to care for me when I’m old” is right up there in the “WTF?” department.

    I’ve seen what that does to grandchildren, and find it profoundly offensive. My role WRT my children is to give them the best shot I can for their lives, not the other way ’round. I can’t pay back the generations before me for all they’ve done, so (as my father instructed me) I’ll have to pay it forward.

    And he has the gall to call others selfish?

  • caseloweraz

    But your energy, Ed! You will waste your love on two dats and a cog (or was it two cogs and a dat?) and wind up bereft of energy in the sitterness of Bollytude (or something like that, according to Il Papum…)

    Whereas those who marry will inevitably have loving children to care for them and supply new energy as the old ones’ energy ebbs, because life never runs out of energy when it multiplies.

    Second law of thermodynamics? Carrying capacity? God’s law trumps those sciencey things!

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    He’s right. That’s why I leave a family in every town I visit. I’m like Johnny Appleseed, but with less apples and more seed.

  • parasiteboy

    Life…acquires energy when it multiplies

    Yes, but have you not heard of the exponential growth rate the human population is currently undergoing and the concept of carrying capacity Mr. Popeyhead?

    I know, I know that god will take care of us in mysterious ways, like wars (over other things like water), famine and diseases, but I would rather see us take care of ourselves.

    Overpopulation is one reason that I am ok with not having children (also my significant other doesn’t want them).

    buy a second home in the countryside

    Yep, every childless couple has enough money to buy a second house or would if we did. Again, even though I won’t have kids I care a lot about the next generation and I want them to have some fucking resources left to live a happy life.

  • marcus

    “My wife and I talked about having children, we decided to have fun instead.”

    Folk wisdom.

  • LightningRose

    Meet the new Pope,

    Same as the old Pope,

    Won’t get fooled again…

  • Michael Heath

    Deacon Duncan writes:

    Selfishness is the heart of all human morality.

    Uh, no; not all moral standards. I happen to subscribe to an objective standard of morality. A standard that’s primary objectives is to minimize the suffering of sentient life, maximize human happiness, while protecting the environment for future generations – including fauna flourishing.

    Graded on a curve I presume I pass this standard. I certainly and hypocritically fail on a normative scale and to the standard I expect future enlightened generations will consider moral. That’s primarily because I eat meat and belong to a generation that is failing to mitigate the threat of climate change.

    On the former (eating meat), I fail precisely because I still practice some immoral selfishness; in this case the opposite of your claim that selfishness is at the heart of morality. So using my standard, selfishness can be demonstrably immoral.

  • Sastra

    There’s something about these charges of “selfishness” which stinks of the idea that happiness is a zero-sum game. Parents suffer and it’s just not fair that the childless don’t. It’s the same disgruntled attitude applied to people who are suspected of not working hard, or hard enough. Even more than reaping their own benefits of sacrifice, it’s important that the people who didn’t make the same ‘sacrifices’ reap the whirlwind. Otherwise, the invariable disappointments over a life which didn’t turn out perfectly can’t be contrasted with the even worse disappointments of those who chose something different, something ‘easier.’ Suckers.

    It’s the same reasoning as needing a Hell — with a view of the suffering of the damned — so that the saved in Heaven can see and appreciate the difference. Otherwise, happiness isn’t perfect happiness.

  • busterggi

    G’wan, the Pope is just another priest & lots of them have children – just someone elses.

  • tbp1

    Can someone explain to me why anyone cares what the Pope has to say about anything in this day and age? I honestly don’t get it.

    Granted, he looks like he might be slightly less horrid than the previous two, but that’s damning with very faint praise, indeed.

  • sugarfrosted

    I’m glad the pope thinks not wanting to pass down a genetic disease makes me selfish.

    Also on the topic of the fertility cult, it’s clearly not. The Catholic church just realizes the same thing that communist romania realized (granted they got the idea from them.): Too many children causes poverty, poverty can make people easier to control.

  • magistramarla

    D.C Sessions @13,

    I agree with you. We sacrificed a lot to give our kids the best shot at life as possible, and now it’s their turn to do the same for their own kids. We decidedly don’t want to depend upon, or live with our children when we are older.

    Besides, the only one that we would even want to live near when we’re older is the one who has chosen to have no children.

    She and her husband are fun to be around, fun to travel with and fun to go out to restaurants and nightclubs with.

    Now that the kids are all adults we want to party hearty, not be home with the grandkids, except when we want to see the grandkids.

  • jaybee

    tbp1 asked:

    Can someone explain to me why anyone cares what the Pope has to say about anything in this day and age?

    I care because hundreds of millions of Catholics listen to at least some of the stuff he says, and it has an affect on the world. Very intelligent, otherwise normal people who I know well have said with conviction that use of condoms increases AIDS, because the pope said so.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    The remarks echoed earlier comments by the pope on the topic of childlessness. Last year, he warned against the lure of a “culture of wellbeing” that can come when a couple does not have children and has the money and freedom to take nice holidays and buy a second home in the countryside.

    I think he’s criticizing a fantasy more than a reality. Okay, I don’t know what’s happening in Italy, but in the US the prosperous couples he’s describing are highly likely to have children, in my experience. Not crazy numbers of kids, but couples who are stable and economically comfortable typically have kids.

    Who chooses not to have kids? A lot of single people and, in my experience, people who have concerns about psychological and financial ability to care well for kids. In fact, too many people who can’t care well for kids have them anyway.

    But the idea that there are all these wealthy couples out there choosing to permanently eschew parenthood because they’re having a blast seems like the fantasy of a man who doesn’t really know about the lives of prosperous couples.

  • gardengnome

    Decades ago, Dave Allen did a sketch in which he, as the pope, pounded on the pulpit and declared “The church is about bums on seats”. Never was a truer word spoken in jest.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    @Michael:

    Uh, no; not all moral standards. I happen to subscribe to an objective standard of morality. A standard that’s primary objectives is to minimize the suffering of sentient life, maximize human happiness, while protecting the environment for future generations – including fauna flourishing.

    I generally like that standard, but I disagree with your characterization of it as an objective standard of morality. We can strive to apply that standard objectively, a challenge but we can work at it, but the standard itself is based on moral intuitions about right and wrong. It is not an objective fact.

    Haidt would identify the intuition to maximize happiness and minimize suffering as rooted in the Care/harm intuition, which he finds to be the more dominant intuition of liberals typically. But he identifies several other moral intuitions, all of them proposed as intuitions selected in the course of evolution. Ultimately they would be about species survival, but they aren’t engraved in cosmic stone and the distribution of these intuitions varies from person to person, so people can feel intensely but differently about moral matters.

    I point this out because people think of their moral views as somehow objectively rooted, but in a sense our moral foundations, regardless of our particular intuitive preferences, are probably biologically rooted and variable between people. Of course, the churches rail against moral relativism, arguing that there is an objective morality ordained by a divinity, that’s no more provable than claims that moral intuitions absent diving explanation are somehow objective. There’s no official manual of objective and correct morality. There is just a somewhat variable, evolved set of intuitions, which is why can people, argue, fight and even kill on the basis of moral disagreement.

  • Michael Heath

    Dr. X writes:

    I generally like that standard [the one I attempt to follow], but I disagree with your characterization of it as an objective standard of morality. We can strive to apply that standard objectively, a challenge but we can work at it, but the standard itself is based on moral intuitions about right and wrong. It is not an objective fact.

    I didn’t describe the method to determine what’s moral or not my characterization. Your speculation on how I do that is wholly wrong. My approach is instead empirical; it is most certainly not driven by mere intuition.

    This is a standard prescribed by utilitarian philosophers who are secular objective moralists. Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values , is a good place to start on the moral perspective. He prescribes a very similar standard though I extend my personal standards beyond his.

  • matty1

    Deacon Duncan’s arguments sound to me a lot like the only Ayn Rand I ever managed to read, called the Virtue of Selfishness. To me she seems to deliberately confuses three things, the fact we often feel good doing things we consider moral, that it is in fact surprisingly difficult to do something that would definitely not be in your interests by some definition*, and the common understanding of selfishness as meanness in the pursuit of gain.

    *Sacrifice your life for a stranger, huh, you’re only doing that because you want the good reputation

  • Michael Heath

    Dr. X. writes:

    There’s no official manual of objective and correct morality. There is just a somewhat variable, evolved set of intuitions, which is why can people, argue, fight and even kill on the basis of moral disagreement.

    I agree there’s no official manual, and that debate is required to take more defensible positions. But like most science-based and utilitarian arguments, promoted prescriptions that are best supported by sufficient framing and the relevant facts are generally more credible and compelling.

  • gardengnome

    Of course, his real concern is that someone, somewhere out there, might be enjoying themselves…

  • raven

    The Catholic Church as a fertility cult. Discuss.

    Power and mysogyny.

    But don’t forget the politics and money. More Catholics means more money coming in and more political power. This is a common strategy, tried often, and sometimes called biological colonialism i.e let’s outbreed everyone else. It usually doesn’t work.

    Just why do you think the Duggars have 19 kids? They aren’t Catholic, but they are part of a small breeder cult trying to outbreed everyone else. Same with the Mormons, another breeder cult.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Dr X “…eschew…”

    Gesundheit.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Michael,

    Utilitarianism doesn’t mean the underlying moral premise is objective. Utilitarianism is a kind of analysis that rest on intuitive assumptions about what should be maximized and what should be minimized. The “what” in question, is intuitive and that varies from person to person.

    Harris’s work is naive and has been discredited and dismissed by more serious philosophers and moral psychologists. He makes the same mistakes that almost everyone makes when trying to establish an objective basis for their moral beliefs: he’s utterly opaque when it comes to the subjective nature of his moral premises, jumping from own his subjective intuitions to prescriptive moral oughts. His premises may be a given of biology, but those premises vary demonstrably from person to person. And the variations in these premises are determined by non-conscious mental processes. And as givens, these premises are the “is,” not the “ought.” Harris hasn’t bridged the unbridgeable is-ought chasm, let alone established a single underlying “is.” Not even close.

    It’s the same mistakes Aquinas, the Catholic Church, Ayn Rand and the average person makes. They assume they’ve nailed down an objective is, then they make a brazen, illogical leap to moral oughts. Calling it nature, reason or science, dressing up the leap of faith as an objective fact.

    Better to admit we’re working on quicksand, study the quicksand and understand the conflicts that creates, rather than futilely butt heads pretending some fundamental objectivity while arguing with other self-deluding goats who are more driven by sanctity/disgust intuitions, just to put a name one major bone of intuitive moral contention.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Ascribing motives to the pope’s statement runs into the problem identified yesterday by Ed when he talked about mass shootings. We favor excessively simple explanations for overdetermined phenomena.

    The Catholic Church–its philosophers and theologians–has erected elaborate intellectual house of moral cards over its long history. It’s all post hoc rationalizing to deal with an array of problems including competition, money, power, control and conflictedness about sexuality. They’re constantly trying to shore up the monstrosity, but the whole thing is wobbily and falls if you pull out any of the flimsy parts.

    Who knows what was the trigger or triggers for this particular set comments from the pope. What we do know is that he’s standing on an intellectual structure that can’t pass even a casual inspection at this point. The Catholic hierarchy has been in almost non-stop panic about this situation for 50 years now.

  • Al Dente

    Why does a professional virgin think he can tell other people how to conduct their family and sexual lives? Actually I know the answer: Hubris.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    If he’s a virgin, I poop rainbows.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    sometimes called biological colonialism i.e let’s outbreed everyone else.

    I am one of 40 first cousins on the paternal side. It’s the catholic way! The parties were fun as a kid, but got all too drama-tic as time went by. Haven’t seen any of them cousins in 15 years.

  • StevoR

    @38. Kamaka : Really? Why? I don’t agree with the Pope on this issue or much else but that’s quite an extraordinary claim you are making there isn’t it? Supporting evidence and reasons for saying that would be?

  • anubisprime

    Well the popeness is expressing a point of view from the ‘katolik perspective.

    Less victims means less income means less power means less influence, so to not provide them with fresh punters to corrupt, play with, twist and exploit for the RCC’s explicit benefit is indeed being very selfish…now do you not feel guilty?

    This poop is not really the fresh broom to sweep the archaic dogma’s away is he…in fact in many ways close your eyes and all that is there is JP2 or Benny…or a clone of a dozen other con merchants that went before.

    As LightningRose @ 18 mentioned…

    ‘Meet the new boss same as the old boss!’

    The charm offensive has rather dried up and shriveled these days,,,a light breeze it will eventually blow away,

    Seems the only good pope is a dead one…they are all apparently end up as short tracked for sainthood…’cept benny but he was nigh on barking’ which is no real disadvantage just that they needed a brand new image change, and seems like they even fucked that up cos they were dimly aware of having to clean up the crime scene, but forgot that they were the crime.

  • tbp1

    tbp1 asked:

    Can someone explain to me why anyone cares what the Pope has to say about anything in this day and age?

    I care because hundreds of millions of Catholics listen to at least some of the stuff he says, and it has an affect on the world. Very intelligent, otherwise normal people who I know well have said with conviction that use of condoms increases AIDS, because the pope said so.

    It’s those “millions of Catholics” I was referring to, not the average reader/commenter here.

  • arydant

    Deviation: The Catholic Church as an organized fertility syndicate. Want 100 word essay on my desk in the morning.

  • Kermit Sansoo

    “On the former (eating meat), I fail precisely because I still practice some immoral selfishness; in this case the opposite of your claim that selfishness is at the heart of morality. So using my standard, selfishness can be demonstrably immoral.”

    .

    One can – and usually does, I think – claim that moral behavior is selfish without claiming that all selfish behavior is moral.

    .

    Someone once asked Alan Watts “You are supposed to be this great, enlightened Zen master, and here you are smoking cigarettes! How do you explain yourself?”

    Watts shrugged and replied “I like cigarettes.”

    But, the seeker continued to sputter, “I’ve seen you sit for hours in Zen meditation!”

    Watts explained patiently “I like meditating.”

  • Nick Gotts

    Yes, but have you not heard of the exponential growth rate the human population is currently undergoing – parasiteboy@16

    Except, it isn’t. “Exponential growth” means the proportional growth rate remains constant. Here is a table of global population growth rates since 1950 (and projections, from 2011) drawn from a UN report of 2012. The growth rate peaked at around 2.1% p.a. in the 1960s, and has almost halved since then. Not even close to exponential; even the absolute year-on-year increase peaked in the late 1980s.